Saturday, May 14, 2016

Broadway's TUCK EVERLASTING, a charming fantasy with a lovely score

The matinee performance of TUCK EVERLASTING was mainly populated by middle school students on graduation trips, as evidenced by their “class of 2016” matching t-shirts.  Based on their reactions, they were quite familiar with Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel, on which the Chris Miller (music), Nathan Tysen (lyrics) and Claudia Shear and Tim Federle (book) is based.

The tale centers mainly on eleven year-old Winnie Foster, who lives with her recently widowed mother and grandmother in the rural town of Treegap.   Winnie is frustrated with the restrictions placed on her by her hovering mother.  She isn’t even allowed to go to the town’s carnival. 

She decides to run away from home.  Well, at least wander in the wooded area her family owns.  While there, she sees a boy who appears to be about 17 drinking from a spring.  He reveals that he is Jesse Tuck, and accidentally reveals that when his parents and brother, Miles, came to the area many, many years ago, they each drank from that very spring, and turned into the Tucks, everlasting.  The Tucks had been blessed, or cursed, with eternal life. 

In order to avoid drawing suspicion, Jesse and Miles go away from Treegap and return every ten years to see their parents and drink again from the spring. 

Jesse bring Winnie to the Tuck home.  Winnie falls in love with Jesse and comes to think of Angus, Jesse’s father, as a substitute for her dad.

Jesse takes Winnie to the fair, where a man in a yellow suit overhears them discussing the miracle of everlasting life, finds that the girl is staying at the Tuck homestead, goes to her home and makes a deal with Winnie’s mother that for revealing the whereabouts of her daughter, he will be given the deed to the area where the spring is located.

Questions abound.  Will the man in the yellow suit get his desire for eternal life and riches from selling the spring water?  Will Angus be reunited with his son, who was taken away from him by his wife?  Will Jesse and Winnie join together forever?  And, what will become of the toad who was given some of the magic spring water by Winnie? 

The teen-filled audience knew the answers, but, besides them, only those who see the musical or read Babbitt’s novel will know the outcome of TUCK EVERLASTING.

The gentle musical is filled with pretty music, an obvious but satisfying tale, and a glorious extended end-of-production ballet, which wordlessly conveys the circle of life.

The cast is universally strong.  Eleven year-old Sarah Charles Lewis enchants as Winnie.  She has a strong singing voice, remarkable stage presence for one so young, and commands the stage with her spunk. 

Andrew Keenan-Bolger has an old-man presence contained in his young man looks.  It perfectly fits the role of the impish Jesse.  He has a fine singing voice and is totally realistic in his portrayal.

Carolee Carmello creates the right motherly image as Mae Tuck, while Michael Park is fatherly humorous as Angus.  Robert Lenzi has the right tortured sound and look as Jesse’s brother, who has lost both the love of his life and his child because of the curse/miracle of everlasting life.

Christopher Gurr skillfully stood in as the villainous Man in the Yellow Suit at the performance I attended.  He was so proficient that when he came out for the curtain call, the audience actually booed him.

The recently announced Tony nominations recognized the production with only one citation, that for Gregg Barnes for his costume design.  It is surprising that Sarah Charles Lewis, in her Broadway debut in the role of Winnie, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, for creating an enchanting extended ballet, was not recognized.  Chris Miller’s gentle folk music score also was worth acknowledgment.

Part of the problem with the Tony voters and this show is that they may not have appreciated an “old fashioned” staging that doesn’t have pounding mod music, an outlandish story, startling electronics, and overblown sets. 

Though the production may not have an extremely long Broadway run, the show would do well in the hinterlands.  It can only be hoped that the producers of TUCK EVERLASTING will recognize the potential of touring the show as there are millions of tweens who will adore the production, as they did the Babbitt’s original book.

Capsule judgment:  TUCK EVERYLASTING is a fable of Americana that may be too gentle for New York critics and audiences, but should be a major hit with the family-oriented audiences that make up the Broadway series tours in the hinterlands.  This is a well-conceived production, with hummable folk music, and a charming tale.

What:  TUCK EVERLASTING, the musical
Where:  Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street
When:  Open run